- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2006

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Authorities yesterday said that a weekend fire at a Baptist church was an arson, the 10th in a string of blazes set at churches in rural Alabama.

The Saturday-afternoon blaze severely damaged the Beaverton Freewill Baptist Church in northwest Alabama, near the Mississippi line.

“It’s definitely arson,” said Ragan Ingram, a spokesman for the state fire marshal’s office, which was investigating whether the fire was connected to the other blazes that have destroyed or damaged nine churches since Feb. 2.

Saturday’s fire was the only blaze not set in the pre-dawn hours.

Investigators have said they don’t know a motive and there is no racial pattern. Five of the churches had white congregations and five black. All were Baptist, the dominant denomination in the region, and most were in isolated country settings.

Last week, Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican, said the nine earlier church fires appear linked, as investigators checked out witness reports of two men in a sport utility vehicle near several of the fires.

Also yesterday, a federal investigator said authorities think — based on witness reports and behavioral profilers — that two white men were responsible for the fires.

“They’re not youths or teens. It’s probably someone in their 20s or 30s. We believe they’re pretty much inseparable. They’re something like bosom buddies,” said Eric Kehn, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Evidence from one of the earlier fires indicates the perpetrators might have been trapped briefly inside the building and might have been hurt, said Jim Cavanaugh, ATF regional director.

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